- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 6, 2001

JABAL SARAJ, Afghanistan To shouts of "God is Great" and the echoes of an American bombing raid, the political leader of the Afghan opposition yesterday reviewed soldiers of the Northern Alliance who are fighting the ruling Taliban.
In a display of strength, old Soviet tanks fired practice rounds into arid hillsides north of the capital, Kabul, as former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and other opposition leaders reviewed several thousand Northern Alliance soldiers. A five-member team of American military personnel arrived in the region ahead of the rally, opposition officials said.
"Your jihad [holy war] is right," Mr. Rabbani said. "You can save the world from terrorism."
Mr. Rabbani, who is still recognized by the United Nations as Afghanistan's legitimate leader, urged the fighters onward in their battle against the Taliban regime, which controls most of Afghanistan and is sheltering Osama bin Laden, the accused mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Northern Alliance forces have repeatedly indicated they are ready to move toward Kabul, about 25 miles to the south, but their war readiness has often been questioned. Those doubts intensified with word that the alliance was routed in an abortive advance on the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Sunday.
Outnumbered and lacking cohesion, Northern Alliance forces now face the additional burden of dwindling supplies and a fast-approaching winter.
But U.S. officials still favor the alliance as the force most likely to topple the Taliban regime and have backed the alliance with supplies, military advisors and a relentless bombing campaign. A team of five U.S. military personnel arrived at an airstrip 40 miles north of Kabul on Sunday "to help coordinate efforts in the war," opposition Interior Minister Yunis Qanoni said yesterday.
He said the men arrived from Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, and were expected to study the new dirt landing strip to determine whether it is ready to handle supplies and act as a winter supply route. The route through a mountain pass from neighboring Tajikistan to the north already has been snowed over.
The unit joins a small number of special forces already in Afghanistan to help U.S. pilots target Taliban positions.
Yesterday's troop review was the biggest ceremonial display of force yet by the Northern Alliance, which is composed mainly of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, who are a minority in Afghanistan.
The troops began to march, tanks snaked up the hillsides for a live-fire demonstration and the speeches continued.
"You are bravely defending your country against the evil triangle of Pakistan, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden," Bismillah Khan, a Northern Alliance commander, told the assembled opposition fighters.
Northern Alliance members accuse Pakistan of continuing to support the Taliban regime, in spite of the Pakistani government's backing of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
High above the Shomali plain, U.S. airmen dropped at least three powerful bombs on Taliban positions not far from the assembled Northern Alliance fighters, who were shouting "God is great. God is great." Huge plumes of gray, white and black smoke rose in the clear skies from the bombs.
So far, the Taliban regime remains defiant, but as military strikes enter their fourth week, many ordinary Afghans say they wish bin Laden, the man referred to as "the guest," would pack up and leave.
"Honestly we don't know why he stays here," Mohammed Farhat, a Kabul pharmacist, said. "The situation is very bad for the Afghan people, but there is nothing we can do."
Bin Laden's Arab allies within his al Qaeda organization were never popular among Afghans, who consider them hostile and overbearing. However, most Afghans seemed to accept their presence, however grudgingly.
Worn out by more than 20 years of war and grinding poverty, ordinary Afghans are more willing to express their dismay.
"There is no life, nothing for the people here," said Haji Islam Uddin, an elderly Afghan, as he hugged his legs to his chest to guard against the cold. "Even a piece of bread is not available. Of course Osama should be handed over. If not, then he should go, leave our country."


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